River Estate Old Sugar Mill

1873 - 1887

River Estate North Sugar Mill

1881 - 1886

River Estate New Sugar Mill

1887 - 1891


View of the Old River Estate Mill near the banks of the Pioneer River from near the location of the present Hospital Bridge. c. mid 1880's (Mackay Historical Society Archive No. 85-318p)

Andrew Henderson, one of the first arrivals in the fledgling Mackay township was the first to work the River Estate lands.  He was the managing partner at River Estate when the property was sold to George Nisbet Marten and Edward Maitland Long.

Within a year or two, Marten dropped out of the relationship and River Estate was operated by the partnership of three Long brothers, Edward Maitland, William Houston and George, known as Long Brothers  and later Long and Co.

The First River Estate mill was erected under the supervision of John Dow and first crushed in the  last week of September 1873.  The mill plant was described at the time as the largest imported to Queensland and certainly the largest to come to Mackay.

The mill plant consisted of 4 foot 6 inch by 26 inch diameter rollers from Mirlees, Tait and Watson of Glasgow. They were fed by a self acting cane carrier 40 feet long and driven by a 50 horsepower horizontal steam engine.  One tubular boiler, 12 feet by7 feet, developed 50 horsepower and one Cornish boiler 20 feet by 7 feet developed 55 horsepower.  A double acting water pump with a 13 inch bore and a 12 inch stroke was attached to a 12 horsepower vertical steam engine.  An elevator 35 feet long raised the megass 18 feet to a chute which carried it clear of the building.  An 18 inch diameter pump forced the juice up to six clarifiers each holding 600 gallons.  These were fitted with trunnions and double sets of copper steam tubes fitted with condensed water boxes and which could be heated by direct or exhaust steam.

The sugar recovery plant included two cast iron double furnace batteries, each fitted with a copper dipper and crane. five cast iron subsiders with a capacity of 12 gallons each and a 6 foot 6 inch copper vacuum pan.  Auxiliary to the pan was an air pump with a 16 inch bore and 24 inch stroke.  Two receiving tanks from the vacuum pan had respective capacities of 1,200 and 400 gallons.  Two pairs of 30 inch centrifugals operated.  One was a Weston's patent "suspended" and the other a Manlove and Alliott "underdriven".

Four large cast iron sugar tanks had a total capacity of 14,000 gallons.  There also were nine cast iron coolers, two large cold water cisterns and two wells supplying unlimited water.  The crushing rollers delivered 800 gallons of juice an hour, a rate within the capacity of the rest of the mill.  The vacuum pan and fugals could produce 10 tons of sugar in 24 hours.

The A.J.S. Bank took over River Estate in 1876 following the rust outbreak in 1875 severely impacting on Edward Maitland Long's  financial position. John Spiller at the time was the manager of the A.J.S. Bank and kept the estate as a going concern. In the 1870's the mill was one of the best in the district.  During the period of when the Estate was managed by Spiller, Brandon and the A.J.S. bank it increased in area to 2,625 acres.

In 1878 River Estate produced 866 tons of sugar.

Due to estate oversupplying the mill capacity it was decided to build a juice mill at the northern end of the estate known as "Back River" estate.  The mill started crushing around 1881 and the juice was transported to the main mill via the use of a tramway.  Spiller's Back River Estate (River Estate north) runs northward off Corvoy Estate and was the scene of extensive urban development in the1970's .

An unusual vertical boilered locomotive was constructed locally at the Victoria Foundry and completed in May 1880.  The three mile long tramway was completed in August 1880.

In 1884 a major flood in the Pioneer River inundated the mill site and it washed the brick bed of the boilers and undermined the chimney stack.  All the mills drays were washed away and many of them were never found.  The damaged mill struggled on for the next 3 seasons and a t a reduced production level mainly due to a couple of poor seasons in that time.

Sometime between 1884 and 1886 the juice mill closed down  and was combined with old mill to form a double crushing mill.  

Spiller and Brandon sold River Estate for 40,000 in 1885 to R.B. Ronald, a wealthy investor, and W. Archer junior was appointed manager.

After the new owners took over the estate a new mill was built further away from the river on the left bank of Fursden Creek about three quarters of a mile away from the old mill roughly halving the distance to the juice mill.  The new mill was described as being of a high standard.  A triple effet replaced the old open batteries and improved layout in location of the clarifiers, subsiders, eliminators and filter presses.

The new mill only made 4,000 tons of sugar in five years even though it had a season capacity of 3,000 tons.  Due to the mill owners not paying the farmers enough for cane supplied to the mill , they either stopped producing or sent their cane to other mills for a better price.  The new mill only crushed for five years.  Other reasons given for the mills demise were capital debt and overworked land as well as an absentee owner living in England. The mill closed at the end of 1891.  

The mill plant laid idle for many years and was once proposed for a site of a Central Mill.  The last of the machinery went to the new mill at Cattle Creek in Finch-Hatton in 1906.

The old mill stack which had laid in the bed of the Pioneer River was covered over by sand in the 1958 flood.

References -

Kerr, John. (1988). A Century of Sugar. Mackay, QLD:  Mackay Sugar Co-operative Association Limited. p. 14, 22, 24, 45, 57, 77, 86, 93.

Kerr, John. (1980).  Pioneer Pageant. Mackay, QLD: Pioneer Shire Council. p. 49, 54, 57,58, 71-72, 100, 101-102, 141

Manning, K.W. (1983). In Their Own Hands. Farleigh, QLD: Farleigh Co-op Milling Association Ltd. p. 8, 23, 25, 29, 30, 33, 50, 57, 82-88, 92-93, 99, 143, 148-149, 168, 201, 206, 210 


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Mackay Historical Society and Museum Incorporated 2001-2006.
created 10 November 2003.
last updated 09 August 2006 .
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